Photos courtesy of Tamara Soueidan
Inside a 2,000 square foot loft in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, you’ll find Art Plug studios. With elevated ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, the recently acquired space makes you feel more like you’re in Brooklyn than Boston. In front of a hanging quilt made of Backwoods wrappers, Art Plug’s unofficial mascot, a French Bulldog puppy named Prince Onyx, plays with a red boa.
Jamilah Unique, Art Plug’s founder, chuckles at her newest member.
“We’re still training him,” she says.
Back in 2016, Unique (@cauctease) created Art Plug with the help of some of her peers. Three years later, the collective has experienced success, expanding their reach and earning respect in Boston’s underground arts scene. But one crucial challenge remains up in the air: how do you get consistent funding?
This may be a relatable question to many artists. But the difference between those people and Unique is she doesn’t let any hurdle stop her. She’s made Art Plug her full-time job, essentially funding the group out-of-pocket, along with money from events and Go Fund Me.
I talked with Jamilah about the Boston arts scene, how Art Plug plans to outsource their funding, and about the collective’s future goals.
What is Art Plug?
Art Plug is a place that a whole bunch of artists can come together, connect, express themselves, not be afraid about what they want to draw, just know that everybody’s coming to do their own thing. You can sustain yourself as an artist and make money and live life comfortably and you don’t have to work for somebody else.
Art Plug is everybody. It’s all of our own creativity. What we’re capable of as people.
What does Art Plug do?
We do artist development which focuses on content creation, brand consultations, and photo shoots. Just different things to help artists figure out they want to be and what they want to do next. We also do a little bit of managing. And then we do events. That’s something that brings everybody together. It’s a way to showcase the art on one big night.
Who is Art Plug For?
Everybody. I don’t want to leave anyone out. We have old people come to Art Plug. You have young people. We try to do events for kids. We try to do everything. Just stay in every lane.
It’s all mediums, too. Music down to the producers, the beatmaker, the engineer. The artist, themselves, the photographer who shoots the artist. It’s all-encompassing. Everything’s the same to us. Like I said, cheffing it up — that’s a medium. Selling weed could be a medium. Growing it is a medium.
What is Art Plug’s focus right now?
We’ve been working so hard to make sure that we’re doing what we need to do because so many people depend on us.
So now we’re focusing on certain people who want to invest in themselves and then we’re giving them free brand consultations. We have an in-house photographer. We’re doing marketing, content creation, promotion for them. Like just support. If they’re crying we’re here for them. If they need food. It’s just about providing a home away from home for these artists. And that’s what we’ve been focusing on now. Just like certain people and just giving back to them.
On Art Plug’s Funding:
The Go Fund Me — we launched it kind of through an event called ‘Heart Plug.’ And we’ve got $300 but we’re hoping to get a little bit more. But we’re thankful for anybody who has donated. A couple people have donated twice. And what we’re seeing is that a lot of the artists are donating back even though we don’t want any money from them. So now we need other people to find out they can donate.
We’re literally low on funds and we just got [to this studio] and this shit is mad expensive. We’re out of pocket… We need other people’s money. We don’t need to keep recycling our own money.
The Art Plug fundraiser didn’t go too well and I’m realizing that a lot of our people only want to go to a party. ‘Oh, this is a fundraiser? I thought it was like a lit party tonight.’ I feel like that’s the one last step because we’ve got everything else. Our minds have everything else that we need.
How do you think you can make more funding happen?
We don’t know. I think we need maybe more marketing materials and maybe go to some high-class dinner downtown. I don’t know. We need to meet an investor, somebody who really just has disposable money.
Is that a familiar pattern in Boston?
I feel like that’s the main thing that happens here, is that there’s a lot of creatives, there’s a lot of artists creating all the time and we’re the real ones. There’s a lot of conservatives and I feel like they want to keep us in a certain place and that’s like the Roxbury area, the Dorchester area, the JP area. And then there’s the other side. It’s literally like an imaginary crossover. And then that’s where all the money and all the opportunities and everything is. And it’s fluctuating and it’s just there and it’s not available to us. It’s only available to certain people.
On finding spaces to create in Boston:
It’s getting extremely hard even at the place we’re at right now. The landlord, he doesn’t really care for the people of color but he wants their money. And it’s just like how do you expect us to pay you money but you don’t want to help us evolve and get better?
It’s getting so much harder to do events and we’re finding that we can’t find that many spots to do them at. So now I feel like we’re just going to be floating around and going from space to space.
What makes Art Plug different from other collectives?
Because Art Plug was something that didn’t charge the artists to showcase and it was something that just never happened before, like on the level that it happened.
Art Plug’s always going to be different. Art Plug’s always going to care about the artists and Art Plug is always going to try to use the money and just make it happen. So if we’re using all of our money to put the show … that’s what we’re going to do.
We’re not just a group that only works with each other. We are collaborative like a lot of people like to assume that because they think we’re doing so great that we don’t need other people but we want other people to join. And we don’t want them to come to us and leave. We like people to stay even if they just stay in touch. It’s a family even if it’s dysfunctional.
On Boston’s underground arts scene:
I think it’s booming, but it’s underground. It’s like we’re underground, right. And we’re bumping on the ceiling, trying to get out. It’s so pumping that people just want to leave [the underground scene]. They can’t stay closed up anymore. They want people to know who they are. They want to be seen. They want to be appreciated. It’s a whole bunch of people coming out of their houses, coming out their shells and it’s just really beautiful.
What’s it going to take to come above ground?
Sticking together. It’s us all banding together and just showing what we’re doing. Everyone has their own audience and we all just need to lift up and just break open the glass ceiling. And learn that information that they’re trying to keep away from us about ownership and about education and about money. Everything. Certain things that they don’t want us to know.
Do you think Art Plug has a role to play in helping do that?
Yeah, I feel it definitely has a lot of people feel like they’ve gained a lot of confidence and that’s what Art Plug’s about too. It’s about telling you, you can do it. You can have your own business. You don’t have to work for somebody else and you can put everything into your dreams and make it work. So you don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.
Where do you see Art Plug in the future?
I see it going on tour. I see us in different states. I see like us touching other cities who need it too. It’s going to go everywhere and you’re not going to be able to ignore it. You know how they say hardware can’t be ignored? They’re not going to be able to ignore all of the artists that we’re putting out there.
This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.